Learning Beyond the Office by Sara Torres (A’20)

by tuftsigl
Aug 13

Did you know that Mexico is the most dangerous country, not in armed conflict, to be a journalist in? Or that there are over 37,000 people disappeared?

Did you know that in order to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela, Lester Toledo—the international humanitarian aid coordinator for Venezuela—has  to find ways to contraband it to the country’s ports? That volunteers have to unpack all of the aid and repack it in a way that does not look like aid?

Working at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) this summer has taught me the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of my region: Latin America. I have learned more about human rights abuses in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil than I ever learned growing up. I have also learned about the efforts NGOs, government entities, and international organization are doing in order to tackle such abuses.

On July 16th, Inter-American Dialogue hosted an event with Reporters Without Borders USA (RSF) on Mexico’s lack of protection of journalists. The event included my boss, Maureen Meyer, from WOLA, Edison Lanza from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the founder of Democracy Fighters, and a Mexican free-lance journalist. They all spoke about the efforts being done to fight this situation. Democracy Fighters is compiling a database of the stories that journalists were working on when they were killed in order to tackle censorship and also to pay tribute to them. WOLA published a report condemning the violence against human rights defenders and journalists and has pushed for Mexico to enforce their Mechanism of Protection for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists.

On July 17, a similar event on Rule of Law in Mexico was hosted at the Mexico Institute of the Wilson Center. Human rights expert and 2018 President of the National Anticorruption System of Mexico Mariclaire Acosta, Executive Director of Fundación para la Justicia y el Estado Democrático de Derecho Ana Lorena Delgadillo, and Director of the Judicial Independence Program and Due Process Law Foundation Ursula Indacochea all spoke at length about the opportunities and challenges faced by current Mexican president AMLO in regard to the protection of rule of law. After this event, we all went to WOLA for lunch—I was able to interact with these incredibly knowledgeable women about the pervasiveness of corruption in Mexico and the region and how it can be tackled.

That same day, I went to an event hosted by the Venezuelan Embassy and the Organization of American States (OAS) at the house of the Venezuelan Ambassador Carlos Vecchio. The event was an intimate meeting between Human Rights Defender Lilian Tintori, Humanitarian Aid coordinator Lester Toledo, Venezuelan Ambassador Carlos Vecchio and 70 Venezuelans from the diaspora (and me).  Each spoke at length about their own work. Tintori opened Venezuela’s pathways to international support by vocalizing the country’s situation to world leaders despite their initial reluctance. Her passport was taken by Venezuelan authorities for her dissent. She started Rescate Venezuela and the Humanitarian Camps as a result—to bring medical attention and aid to over 100,000 individuals.

Whether attending events, participating in office staff meetings or conducting my own research, I have taken advantage of my time in DC to the fullest. I feel extremely motivated by the work of these individuals and would like to bring them on campus as part of the Latin American Committee to share their experiences and knowledge with the Tufts community.

I am very grateful to the Institute for Global Leadership for supporting my summer in DC interning for the Washington Office on Latin America and for also supporting the Tufts Latin American Committee. Latin America now has a voice on campus and that is thanks to the IGL.